Trotsky and Leninism

Two Letters of Leon Trotsky

The two letters that we publish below were written by Trotsky, one, before the October Revolution, and the other, several years later. They indicate Trotsky’s persistent criticisms of Lenin and Leninism. They also suggest that it was his critique of Lenin which was the origin and basis of his subsequent attacks on Stalin.

The first letter, which follows, addressed to Chkeidze, the President of the Menshevik fraction of the Duma, shows what was Trotsky’s position in 1913. Although quotations from this letter have been frequently cited, so far as we are aware, this is the first time that the complete letter has been translated into English.


Letter to Chkeidze

Vienna, April 1st, 1913

To Nicholas Semionovich Chkeidze,
Member of the Empire Duma,
Tauride Palace,
St. Petersburg.

Dear Nicholas Semionovich,

First of all, let me express my gratitude for the pleasure, both political and aesthetic, that your speeches, particularly your last one on robbery, give me. Yes, one feels joy when reading our representatives’ speeches and the workers’ letters to the “Luch” editorial board, or when learning about the symptomatic facts concerning the labour movement. After that, the despicable division, consistently fostered by Lenin, who is a master in this art, a professional exploiter of Russian labour movement routine, seem like an absurd nightmare. No sensible European socialist could possibly believe that the differences of opinion created by Lenin in Cracow are likely to cause a split.

Lenin’s “successes”, although they are an obstacle for us, do not inspire me any concern. At this stage, we are no longer in 1903 or in 1908. With “money of suspicious origin”, intercepted at Kautsky’s and Zetkin’s place, Lenin set up an organ, took the logo of a popular newspaper, wrote the word “unity” on its banner and thus attracted worker readers, who, of course, considered the publication of a workers’ daily to be a great victory. Then, when the newspaper had gained influence, Lenin used it as an instrument for his circle intrigues and for his splittist trends. But the aspirations of the workers for unity are so strong that Lenin was forced to play hide and seek with his readers, to talk about unity from below while organising the split at the top, to equate class struggle to the bickering of groups and fractions. In a word, at this moment, all that Leninism consists of is based on lies and falsifications, and bears in itself the seeds of its own decay. There is no doubt that, if the opposing party knows how to manage, gangrene will soon develop among Leninists, precisely because of the question of unity or division.

But I repeat: if the opposing party knows how to manage. And if Leninism, by itself, does not inspire me any fear, I must admit that I am not sure that our friends, the liquidators, will not help Lenin to get back on saddle.

Two policies may now be applied: to destroy ideologically and organically the fractional walls which still exist, and thus destroy the very foundations of Leninism, which is incompatible with the organisation of workers into a political party, but which can perfectly grow on the manure of splits; or, on the contrary, to conduct a fractional selection of anti- Leninists (Mensheviks or liquidators) by a complete liquidation of the divergences on tactics.


Letter to M. Olminski1

In this second letter, dated 1921, Trotsky reaffirms, in fact, his earlier comments on the nature of the Russian Revolution.

Dear Mikhail Stepanovitch,

I apologise for my delay in replying, but I was extremely busy during the week. You ask me whether to publish my letters to Chkeidze. I think that it would not be appropriate. It is still too early to work as historians. These letters were written under the spur of the moment and, obviously, the tone suffers from this. Today’s readers would not understand, would be unable to make the necessary historical corrections and would simply be disoriented. We must receive, from abroad, Party archives and foreign Marxist editions. They contain many letters from all those who participated in the “quarrel”. Do you really intend to publish them immediately? This would create unnecessary political difficulties, because it would be difficult to find two former Party members in exile, who, in their correspondence of that time, have not exchanged sharp words, motivated by the anger due to the struggle.

What if explanations accompanied my letters? They would tell the divergences I had at that time with the Bolsheviks. I briefly mentioned them in the preface to my brochure “Results and Prospects”. I do not see the need to return to this subject in connection with the discovery of letters in the archives of the police. Moreover, this retrospective review of factional struggle could, still now, give rise to controversy, because, I confess frankly, I do not think at all that, in my disagreements with the Bolsheviks, I was wrong on all points. I was completely wrong in my assessment of the Menshevik fraction: I overestimated its revolutionary capabilities, and I thought possible to isolate and neutralise its right wing. However, this fundamental error is due to the fact that I was analysing the two fractions, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, by placing myself from the perspective of the permanent revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat, while, at that time, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were adopting the point of view of the bourgeois revolution and of the democratic Republic. I had not realised that the two fractions were separated by such deep divergences, and I was hoping (as I have repeatedly expressed in letters and reports) that the course of the revolution, itself, would lead them to the programme of the permanent revolution and of the seizure of power by the working class – which was partially achieved in 1905. (Lenin’s preface to Kautsky’s article on the driving forces of the Russian Revolution and position of the Nachalo newspaper.)

I estimate that my appreciation of the driving forces of the revolution was undoubtedly correct, but that the consequences that I pulled from the two fractions were unquestionably false. Only Bolshevism, thanks to the rigidity of its principles, could rally all the truly revolutionary elements among the intellectuals and the advanced fraction of the working class of that time.

And it is only because it managed to create this compact revolutionary organisation that it could switch quickly from the democratic revolutionary position to the socialist revolutionary position.

Today, I would still be able to easily separate my polemical articles against the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks into two categories: those focused on the analysis of the internal forces of the revolution, of their perspectives (Neue Zeit, the theoretical organ, Polish Rosa Luxemburg); and those in which I evaluated the fractions of the Russian Social- Democracy, their struggle, etc... Now I could still publish articles of the first category without making any correction, because they are entirely consistent with the position adopted by our Party since 1917. But articles of the second category are clearly erroneous and are not worth being reprinted. The two letters sent fall into this second category, and it is useless to publish them. Let someone else do that ten years from now, if people are still interested in them.

Communist greetings.

L. Trotsky.

December 6, 1921

‘Trotski et le Trotskisme: Textes et Documents’, Paris, 1937, pages 60­61.

With acknowledgements to ‘La Forge’.

Translated from the French by Antonio Artuso.


1. Former member of the Bolshevik Party.

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